Friday, April 15, 2005

Eric Gaffney Interview

Interview with Eric Gaffney
Conducted by Dan Cohoon
Via e-mail, April 2005

Sebadoh was the first indy-rock show I went to. It was at Bryn Mawr College in the spring of 1993. I think Pitchblende opened. My brother and I discovered Sebadoh from an interview in the Sonic Death fanzine (the fanzine for Sonic Youth) earlier that year. Sebadoh’s album Bubble and Scrape was on constant rotation my last two years of high school. Out of all songwriters in the band I like Eric Gaffney the best; the others follow close behind. Sebadoh still had some bright moments after he left, but it just wasn’t the same. When Eric left the band, some of the magic and spark left with him.

Eric Gaffney (Promo Photo 2005) Posted by Hello
Eric will be touring the east coast with fellow Sebadoh band mate Jason Loewenstein this spring. They will be busting out songs from the Sebadoh song book. Domino Records will also be re-issuing one of my favorite records, Sebadoh III. That evening, 12 years ago, when I first saw Sebadoh play, opened a world of strange and wonderful music. It is a great honor that one of my favorite artists took the time to do an e-mail interview with me. -Dan Cohoon

Dan Cohoon: Let us start at the beginning. How did Sebadoh come about? How did you meet the other folks in the band?
Eric Gaffney: Well, I met Lou in 1983. We attended and played hardcore shows together in Western Massachusetts, at the Guiding Star Grange Hall in Greenfield. I played drums in Grey Matter, my first band, which I'd started in eleventh grade. Lou was in Deep Wound. I sang in the studio with them, along with Gerard Cosloy, on a song that wasn't released at the time. After the end of the local hardcore scene, an old friend and I used to get drunk on cheap wine on the railroad tracks and stop by to hear Dinosaur at their industrial park practice space in 1985, and I went with them to their shows in their tour van quite a few times.

Lou and I had similar interests in home recording; we'd both been recording songs as far back as 1980. He bought the "Gracefully Aging Hippy Soloists with Fountains Turned Backwards" cassette I put out. Duo with the late Charles Ondras. (later of Boss Hog, Unsane NYC) Anyhow, we started trading tapes after that. I helped Lou out in a sense, told him his songs were good and agreed to back him up. So, we started the Sentridoh project in my garage in January, 1987. I did it as a favor to help him gain personal confidence. I backed his ukulele/voice with various percussive instruments and I co-coordinated the first few shows at Smith and Hampshire College, and arranged for Main Street Records to give away Weed Forestin with the new Dinosaur LP. We spent many days hanging out with our friend Jens Jurgeson whom I lived with In Northampton at the time. Around this time I was in Gobblehoof with Jens and Tim Aaron, and later J Mascis. We played two shows I think and then I moved along and focused more on my songs and recording.

So, the next summer Lou and I put together "The Freed Man" cassette which featured a bunch of solo recordings we had along with tapes of walking through K-Mart, tape collages, whatever. I made copies on a cheap tape-to-tape player. I made a display box with Dr. Seuss pictures on it and sold our tape for $1.00 at Main St. Records.

Sebadoh's Homestead promo photo Posted by Hello

Then Gerard Cosloy reviewed it in Conflict (zine) and signed us to Homestead for three records. We met Jason through a phone call to WOZQ in 1989, during my radio show that Lou had joined that day. I had a show at Smith College, where Lou and I were living, and the band I was in didn't play, but Jason's band "Dissident Voices" were playing and I thought his drumming was great... he played barefoot like Grant from Husker Du, and had a 1967 Ludwig kit. It took awhile, but I put the band together in my garage in Florence, MA. in the summer of 1989 playing my strange low open tuned acoustic and electric songs with a step down tuning.

We began playing shows at the end of the year, first in Western Mass., then in Boston and in New York City by 1990. Lou and I continued to perform as a duo a few times, both playing acoustic guitars and trading off songs. By that time we started switching instruments and all writing songs and trading off. The rest is history.

DC: Were you involved in any projects prior to Sebadoh? Did you have any formal musical training?
EG: I got my first drum kit, red sparkle-Muppet style, in 1973 and my first acoustic guitar in 1980, grew up seeing shows in Cambridge in the 60's as a baby, and there was lots of music played on the stereo; rock, jazz, folk rock. I had goofed around with tape recorders since the 70's, but it was when I got my first electric guitar, a 60's Sears piece of shit, in 1982, and plugged it into a 1959 Silvertone amp (reputed to be the one used by Chicago blues players in the day) that inspired me to pursue starting a band, Grey Matter. I wrote all the lyrics at first, mostly in typing class in 10th grade and played drums.

No formal training ever. I played along to records with earphones all the while. I was in many short-lived bands from 1983 to 1989, as a drummer. The first band I played guitar for was "The Gracefully Aging Hippy Soloists With Fountains Turned Backwards," a duo with the Charles Ondras. That was 1986. We used a Moog synth for added fucked up noise along with a GL guitar and drum kit in Chuck's barn space.

DC: The whole Lo-fi movement came to prominence because of Sebadoh and other like minded bands. What kind of recording equipment did you have at the beginning?
EG: I discovered I could play my acoustic through the stereo and earphones to achieve a distorted sound, very cool fuzz I would add. That was 1980. Later, I learned to bounce using two tape recorders, made up songs and did that up until I first used a cassette 4-track recorder in 1986. We ended up using a Tascam Porta One with one SM57 mic to record solo and to record the band in my garage.

DC: How do you feel to be associated with the home recording movement? Do you think with the advent of affordable digital recording devices that Lo-fi is a genre of the past?
EG: I like being associated with the home recording or Lo-Fi movement, although it's just what we did because we didn't have lotsa money for studio recording back then, or now actually. I would not want to be associated with a digital home recording movement, not to say I haven't tried it and had good results. Generally speaking, I like analog. There's a million reasons why. It sounds better is one.

DC: Sean Byrne from Bugskull said that Lo-fi was an economic movement and not an artistic one. I think low fidelity recordings can be beautiful. What are your thoughts on Lo-fi being an aesthetic choice vs. an economic one? Are there ways to make connections between the aesthetic and the economic or the aesthetic and the political and Lo-fi?
EG: Uh, for me personally, it was both economic and aesthetic I suppose, but I was not part of any movement. Put simply, it was and is for me still, a way to record stuff. I like all sorts of different recording formats, always have.

DC: How did the progression of Sebadoh from home recording project to full on rock band come about?
EG: I think I addressed this earlier, but actually we all continued to record at home so to speak, well after we were a band and recorded in studios. I wanted Lou and Jason to be in my band and play my songs and play out and have fun, which is what it was at first. There was no money, no manager, no booking agent, no publicists, and no attorneys. No Hype. That all started happening around 1992, about three years after we began playing as a trio.

DC: You do both sound pieces & write songs. How does the creation of sound pieces differ from that of writing songs?
EG: One is a sound piece, probably using the pause button and a pile of tapes, or just one, and songs? Sometimes I'll take ten years to write and finish a song, other times I'll make it up on the spot, same with sound pieces I guess.

DC: What caused you to leave the Sebadoh? (Please feel free to tell me that it is none of my business)
EG: Burn out is one. I had been playing Lou's songs for almost seven years when I left. We were really busy from 1992 to 1993 and it seemed as if there was pressure on us and fame to seek which was far removed from how it all began. I wasn't interested in playing stadiums at the time which seemed to be the direction it was going. Power struggles were going on too. At the time I left, I was not happy with some of the band's business. It can get really icky in certain respects when a band starts to make money. Everyone wants a piece of it and/or control of it. I ended up drumming most of the time at the end. It became increasingly more difficult to retain the original feel and joy of being in the band, for me at least. Having three songwriters, three guitar players, and two drummers in the band was a blessing and a curse at the same time.

DC: There was a stretch after you left Sebadoh that I did not hear anything at all. What were you up to during that time? What projects were you working on?
EG: A few months after I quit I had a 2-record offer from Sub Pop but I tried to make changes to the contract and so it never happened. Then I went out and bought my first 4-track a year after I left the band, a Porta Two, along with an SM58 mic, '74 P-Bass, a few guitars, and maracas from Bermuda. I got a new space in an old toothbrush factory where Sebadoh had a space the year before. I worked on new material, recorded at Funhouse in Manhattan at one point, which was poorly recorded and scrapped, but fun to do. It was fourteen songs and I played all the instruments. I played solo shows here and there, had an offer from Atlantic Records (T.A.G.) which didn't happen either. I moved to New York City for a year, got married, moved back to the country (Western Mass.) and released "Lights Up & Spins Around" cassette in 1998 which sold quite well for a tape. Then I started a new band "Fields of Gaffney" that year. We played a bunch of shows through 2000 in the northeast, starting with an engagement opening for Royal Trux in New York.

DC: I did see one show upstairs @ the Middle East in Cambridge, MA (circa 1996-97?) where you did free wheeling stream of consciousness rant for the whole show (I think you may have played one or two songs proper). My friend Brian was a bit perturbed. I found the whole evening rather interesting. Do you have any recollection of that evening? Was that planned or did it just sort of happen?
EG: Yes, I remember. I have that show on cassette. It was terrible. I should have had a band. I played after a band, to a packed room, and proceeded to clear it in about five minutes. I've since played the Middle East and had better shows. The place used to be a Purity Supreme market in the 60's where I'd be taken as an infant, so the place is very familiar and likeable for me.

DC: Tell me about your new project Fields of Gaffney. Who is in it? How does it differ from previous projects?
EG: It started in '98 as mentioned, and re-started in San Francisco in 2002 with Richard Marshall (played guitar in Alice Donut) on drums and Jessica Cowley (Pillows) on bass, vocals. We had a great time the first year, played in L.A. with Mike Watt/Nels Cline/Kevin Fitzgerald, and Jason Loewenstein, then flew to New York, played three shows in Brooklyn, played Noise Pop in San Francisco, and I booked a tour of the southwest, played SXSW, and toured the northwest twice. Richard has left the band to play more guitar, and Jessica is in Pillows. It has been a part-time thing from the start.

Brilliant Concert Numbers (cover art) Posted by Hello

DC: On Brilliant Concert Numbers there is a more of a country tinge to some of the songs. How have your tastes evolved over the years? What did you grow up listening to?
EG: Thanks. My taste has never really evolved to my knowledge. I've always listened to lots of different stuff. Through early childhood, there was a ton of music on the stereo; Coltrane, The Beatles (Yes, I remember when Abbey Road was a new release) Tim Buckley (who we went to see perform) The Pentangle, Chicago Blues, early Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin. I began collecting records in 1975 but was interested in vinyl before that. I had a pretty fantastic collection, but would always be trading and selling throughout that period.

Anyhow, I listened to FM radio, Wacky 102, Top 40, especially the hits of 1976, discovered Punk in 1977, bought Ramones/Real Kids tickets in 1978, and started listening to college radio that year for the first time. I went to concerts; Kiss in '78, Yes in '79, who were boring as you might guess, Cheap Trick in 1980, English Beat/Bangles in '82, Talking Heads and B52's in '83. I also liked some of the so-called New Wave bands. I would watch these bands on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Midnight Special, or whatever. I liked Blondie, Talking Heads, and Devo. In 1982 I started buying Flipper and Dead Kennedy's singles, then Minor Threat, X-Claim stuff, early Touch and Go singles. I always liked the "Not So Quiet on the Western Front" double record of California hardcore bands. Compilations were good back then. I lived in Roslindale, MA. in 1981-82 and had access to the best college radio shows. Always wished I had taped all that. The College stations in the Pioneer Valley, where I'm from, were also really great, sometimes they still are.

DC: They are reissuing Sebadoh III. What is it like to go back and listen to music from the beginning of your career? Will there be bonus material included in the reissue?
EG: Sometimes, it's really difficult to listen to the early stuff, or anything we did, other times it can be ok. I am contributing the bonus tracks for the III reissue on Domino. It's a surprise.

DC: On this upcoming tour you are going to play shows with Jason from Sebadoh. Are you going to play together? Are you going bust out songs from the Sebadoh canon? What is the relationship between all the members of Sebadoh now; any chance for a full reunion?
EG: Jason joined me last September at two of my solo shows in Manhattan, and we had a great time. This is going to be better. We play a lot of the old songs because we know them and some newer stuff I've written maybe. Reunion? I don't think any of us know quite yet.

DC: What are the future plans for Fields of Gaffney? Are there any other projects you are involved in?
EG: The band has been hibernating for a year. Jessica and I have been playing as a duo, acoustic and bass. We recorded a song for the Jandek tribute on Summersteps due to be released soon. Not much else at present. Maybe I'll sign a record contract some day and there'll be a legitimate release. This was a long interview and my fingers are tired. Thank you.